The evolution of Web sites from bland depositories of information to sophisticated and user-friendly entities of conscious design carried with it a growing tendency to recognize the achievements of intelligent, artistic, and useful Web design practices with awards. There were countless Web awards created by the early 2000s, ranging from the relatively anonymous to the highly prestigious. Awards were sponsored by established organizations and followed by pundits and Web aficionados alike. In addition, many magazines—both hardcopy and online—issued awards for excellent Web achievements in fields of interest to their readers. Lastly, awards cater to different audiences. Some are devoted mainly to popular recognition by average users, while others recognize technical excellence as judged by professional peers. Accordingly, then, some Web awards are highly sought after by Web designers, while others are essentially giveaways of which the recipients may not even be aware.
Awards Scoop categorized Web awards into six types.
- First, elite awards were the most highly prized, and were the most competitive, since the prestige generally carried other benefits, such as increased user traffic at the site.
- The second category covered awards based on professional recognition. While these were also relatively serious awards, they were not as hotly contested since the audience for them was more insular than for elite awards.
- Third, promotional Web awards were those that Web sites sponsored in part to have the winners somehow promote the award-granting site or entity by placing a mark of the award—and perhaps a link to the presenter's site—on their winning Web sites.
- Fourth, popular awards based on the votes of average users were often significant, but not as hotly contested, since they tend to be less prominent and their criteria highly subjective.
- The fifth category included what Awards Scoop called the "everybody wins" awards, which are mainly presented as a way to draw traffic to the presenter's own site. Such awards tend to be very loosely distributed, and thus the standards for winning are rather low.
- Finally, noncompetitive awards were issued usually to children or amateurs primarily to encourage them to continue in their development efforts.
THE GROWTH OF WEB AWARDS
According to Mic Miller's "A History of Web Awards" in Awards Scoop, Web awards had their genesis in 1994 with the Best of the Web Awards program established by Brandon Plewe of the State University of New York at Buffalo. The winners were announced in May of that year at the First International Conference on the World Wide Web in Geneva, Switzerland. The winners were chosen by popular vote, and the awards' intention was to highlight the possibilities of the World Wide Web, which was at the time just beginning to hit critical mass. Thus, the Best of the Web Awards were simultaneously a recognition of emerging aesthetic and usability standards and a vast promotional effort to spread use of the Web by promoting sophisticated design standards.
Following the Best of the Web Awards, a spate of other awards sprang up in the mid-1990s, usually presenting digital badges or medals to Web sites judged excellent by the awards' criteria. Soon, Web designers shifted their design strategies from attempting to impress their loosely affiliated peers in the design community to chasing after specific awards recognized by large swaths of the Web population. In this way, Web awards contributed to the development of widely-recognized design standards. By 1995, awards began to be institutionalized. Rather than prominent individuals, awards were thus distributed by established organizations, particularly universities. Among the first of these was the University of Michigan's Cool Central, which issued new awards constantly, featuring "sites of the day" and other honors based on the opinions of established and respected judges from around the world.
Through the mid-and late 1990s, the Web grew exponentially, and it seemed like just about everyone was setting up their own Web site. At the same time, design standards evolved and tools grew more sophisticated, upping the ante for Web awards and pushing them into different niches. However, as awards proliferated, they were often used largely as a gimmick to draw more traffic to the presenter's sites. The dearth of Web awards thus threatened to dilute the meaning of awards altogether. To separate the wheat from the chaff, the Award Sites! Web site was established in 1997 by David Bancroft as a way of judging the awards themselves and creating a degree of critical distinction between them. Similar programs followed, and by the 2000s a handful of Web awards had emerged as the most highly respected and sought-after on the Web.
THE WEBBY AWARDS
Perhaps most widely known were the Webby Awards, presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). Based in San Francisco, the International Academy was founded two years after the Webbies began, sprouting from the original awards' judging academy, and its members were generally recognized leaders in fields related to electronic media. The Webbies is the annual ceremony, designed to mimic music's Grammies or Holly-wood's Oscars, at which the academy bestows awards on sites in various categories and for various criteria of excellence. (Unlike those awards ceremonies, however, the Webby Awards limit acceptance speeches to five words or less.) In general, the Webbies aim to honor those sites that are most likely to make Web surfers want to visit and provide the best overall browsing experience.
In 2001, the Webbies covered 27 categories, including commerce, community, education, activism, government and law, humor, news, sports, and "weird." On top of category awards, the Webbies recognize excellence in technical and artistic achievement, as well as outstanding individual contributions and achievements. The IADAS selects all nominees, but for each category two awards are bestowed: the Webby (presented by the academy) and the People's Voice Award (voted by the online public). The Webbies draw celebrity power, as well. The 2001 ceremony—featuring performance art, film, video, and animation—was hosted by ABC television journalist Sam Donaldson.
THE GOLDEN WEB AWARDS
The Golden Web Awards were prestigious within the Web design community, as they were based on peer recognition. Presented by the International Association of Web Masters and Designers (IAWMD), the Golden Web Awards recognized intelligent and innovative Web design practices from the Web master's viewpoint. The IAWMD, in addition to the Awards, provided a forum for members and students to exchange information and ideas related to Web design and maintenance, aiming to promote awareness of and education about Web practices via international networking and recognition.
Unlike the Webby Awards, which are marked with an elaborate ceremony, the Golden Web Awards are presented throughout the year. Web sites are submitted for awards by designers and users to the IAWMD, members of which evaluate the nominations on the basis of design, originality, and content. In addition, the IAWMD sponsors the Junior Web Awards specifically for students aged 13 to 17 to hone their skills by competing with other students worldwide for recognition.
MÉDAILLE D'OR FOR WEB SITE EXCELLENCE
Another prominent Web award was the Médaille d'Or Award for Web Site Excellence, based in the United Kingdom. Médaille d'Or, as an organization, was developed specifically for the purpose of recognizing achievements in Web design and the presentation of its award. Médaille d'Or judges look for a variety of characteristics, such as
- the initial impression of the site
- the extent to which it grabs one's attention and maintains it
- whether the site downloads reasonably quickly
- wwhether it is regularly updated
- whether there is a smooth and intuitive navigation scheme
- general attractiveness
- whether the subject matter is intriguing and whether the presentation is appropriate to the subject.
Not being part of a professional organization nor based on peer review, the Médaille d'Or Award, its popularity notwithstanding, is admittedly more subjective than some of its rival awards. Winners of the Médaille d'Or receive, appropriately enough, a digital gold medal to display on their Web sites to advertise the recognition the site has achieved.
"International Association of Web Masters and Designers: Golden Web Awards." Wellington, FL: International Association of Web Masters and Designers, September, 2001. Available from www.goldenwebawards.com
"Médaille d'Or Award—Main Site." United Kingdom: Médaille d'Or, 2001. Available from www.arachnid.co.uk.
Miller, Mic. "A History of Web Awards." Awards Scoop, 2001. Available from www.awardsscoop.org .——. "Types of Web Awards." Awards Scoop, 2001. Available from www.awardsscoop.org.
SEE ALSO: Web Site Basics; Web Site Design and Set-up; Web Site Usability Issues